Menno Simons, The Founder of the Mennonites
Menno Simons was a man of deep faith, conviction, and love for God’s Word, who stood strong in what he thought was right, and affirmed only those things clearly taught and substantiated in the word of God, even though it resulted in persecution for himself and his followers.
His Birth and Childhood
Less is written about Menno Simons’ early years than of any other time in his life. “We know little more of his life than he himself writes in his book directed to the Reformer Jelle Smit, who wrote under the name Gellius Faber” . Simons was born in Witmarsum, Friesland, a northern province of the Netherlands, less than 10 miles from the North Sea, in January 1496 . He was born to a man named “Simon” , hence the last name of “Simon” . As Dutch peasants, his family struggled to make a living, yet could afford the necessities of life, and were even able to provide monastic training for their child. His parents were probably dairy farmers, although we cannot be sure of their exact profession. Their desire for him was that he become a Roman Catholic priest in the local church, a desire he would conform to, at least for a while.
It has been suggested that Simons’ parents enrolled him in a monastic school at an early age in order to prepare him for ministry. If so, he would have been enrolled possibly at the Franciscan monastery in Bolsward .
His Early Career
“Menno’s early career did not suggest his later notoriety” . His outward conformity to the church in the early years is an exact opposite of the Menno Simons that developed over the years. He was ordained as a Catholic Priest in 1524, in Utrecht, at the age of twenty-eight.
I had achieved the dream of my family. I was now able to live in a class much higher than my humble origins. It was an easy, carefree life, for those of us in the service of Rome were well-treated .
The first parish he served in was in the village of Pingjum, his father’s hometown, which was close to his home in Witmarsum. He served the parish there for seven years, from 1524 to 1531, as the second in rank of three priests . From 1531 to 1536, he served in the parish of his hometown. Simons was quite comfortable in his life as a country priest, in spite of the fact that Simons himself professed that during his life he had never read the Bible. Even during his first two years as a priest he had little or no exposure to the Holy Scriptures. He knew he was not living the life that God’s Word called for, yet Simons feared that reading the scriptures might “mislead him”, since the Catholic church taught that only the Pope was able to properly interpret Scriptures.
He later explained that such a rationale was “stupid”: “I had not touched them during my life, for I feared, if I should read them they would mislead me. Behold! Such a stupid preacher was I, for nearly two years” . Although he did not touch a Bible in nearly two years as a priest, he received training in the Mass and the other sacraments of the church and in the language of the Bible used by the Catholic Church: Latin. Simons also studied Greek and philosophy, as well as the writings of the early Church Fathers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Eusibius. As he served first in Pingjum and then Witmarsum, he was exposed to the Mass, infant baptism, prayers for the dead, confession from the parishioners, and other priestly services. Simons was also exposed to some less-holy activities, those of drinking, card playing, and other frivolities . It has been judged that Simons was not deeply convinced of the sacredness of his duties because of these actions . Even though Simons and his companions engaged in such sinful activities, the subject of the Word of God managed to come up on occasion. When it did, Simons found himself unable to engage in conversation about the Scriptures, since he was a “stupid preacher”. Simons found himself being persecuted and scoffed for his inability to discuss scriptures with his colleagues. He did not know what he believed about the Word, and he knew that nothing would be known to him without revelation from God.
Not much more about his early years as a priest is recorded. Simons himself said very little about the events of this period in his writings, leading us to understand that this time in his life was not only the least eventful, but the least in importance. It is, however, worth noting that during this time in his life things were brewing, doctrinally speaking, for him. Behind the scenes of his obscure priesthood the Reformation had begun, a reformation that had reached Simons, not only by way of information, but much deeper, on a personal and spiritual level.
The Events that Sparked a Leader among Men
While in his first assignment as priest in Pingjum, having been troubled by previously failing to open up God’s Word, Simons set out to study the Scriptures to see for himself what was contained in God’s Word. Simons decided that no longer could he take the word of the Catholic Church; he needed to know for himself what God had spoken. He opened up the Bible and began to study. The more he studied the Scriptures, the more convinced he became that the church was wrong and the reformers he had heard about were right. He came to believe that some of his previous convictions were wrong. “He felt that Scripture everywhere spoke of believer’s baptism but nowhere speaks of infant baptism. He saw that the bread and wine used in communion were not the real body and blood of Christ, as the Roman Catholics taught”.
As Simons began to study these truths in more detail, and search out the Scriptures, he was at first confused. His wonderings were filled with doubt. He could not help but think that maybe his doubts about these doctrines, as taught by the Catholic Church, were tricks from the devil. Maybe the church was right. After all, he was just one lowly priest, and they were the high Church of Rome, capable of interpreting Scriptures better than he. It was a struggle for Simons. “After Menno had been tormented for about two years by his doubts he finally turned to the Bible and searched it for help on his particular problem”. Simons soon learned that he had been deceived and that the Catholic Church was incorrect, to say the very least. As he buried himself in the Bible, he said, “I had not proceeded far therein, ere I discovered that we were deceived”. Simons was relieved to discover that his doubts concerning the false doctrines of the church were in fact correct, and not from the devil, as he had once fearfully thought. As he studied more, Simons began to formulate for himself the beliefs that would later shape his career and legacy. Simons wondered, then, how the church could justify their teachings on the doctrine of Transubstantiation, when Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 11:24 clearly taught that taking of the wine and bread were outward signs of memorial to the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. It was the teachings of the Last Supper that Simons was convinced of first – that indeed they were memorials and not actually the body and blood of Christ. He needed instructions from no one concerning the Last Supper, as Simons now had clear revelation from God concerning this ordinance, as opposed to unclear and untrue teachings from the Church.
Shortly thereafter another revelation came to Simons, that of the falsehood of infant baptism. In 1531, while still in his first priesthood, Simons learned of the execution of a God-fearing, pious hero named Sicke Snijder . Snijder, a tailor, was beheaded for having been rebaptized, a concept he had not heard of until then. He referred to the concept of rebaptism as “strange” He knew that the death of a devoted hero should not be taken lightly, and that his cause should be investigated. Simons then began to question for himself the teachings of infant baptism by the Catholic Church. He pondered if infants should be baptized after they are born, or if these radical reformers he had heard about were correct in their teachings that baptism should follow a conversion, and thus be administered only to believers in Christ. How could the church hold to the baptizing of infants against what seemed to be the clear teachings in Scriptures that one must be a believer in Jesus Christ to be baptized? In the Scriptures he could find not one instance of an infant having been baptized.
Simons sought to investigate this matter in great detail, taking seriously the death of a godly man and the necessity for accuracy when interpreting God’s infallible Scriptures. First, he turned to Scriptures, as noted above. Next he turned to the wise counsel of his pastor, who admitted, after a lengthy discussion on the matter, that in fact there was no basis from the Scriptures for the sacrament of infant baptism. Neither his own understanding thus far nor the confession of his pastor served to settle his troubled heart. He needed to look further, and look further he did. He consulted with the ancient writers .
From them he saw a teaching about baptism which not only confirmed infant baptism, but also saw it as necessary for the cleansing of the infant’s original sin. Simons knew that this did not parallel the teaching in Scripture concerning infant baptism. As a matter of fact, he was offended by the teaching of the ancient writers on the subject. After referring to the ancient writers, and having found them incorrect and thus of no help, he turned next to the writings of Martin Luther. He deduced that Luther was wrong as well, since he taught that infant baptism was done in accordance with the infant’s own faith. Next he researched the writings of Martin Bucer , a former priest, reformer, and evangelical preacher. Simons saw that even Bucer was wrong on the matter; for he taught that infants needed baptism to ensure that they are fully nurtured in their walk with the Lord throughout life . Finally, Simons turned to the writings of Heinrich Bullinger . Yet again he found only incorrect teachings of infant baptism in Bullinger’s ideas of covenant baptism. “Having thus observed that authors varied greatly among themselves, each following his own opinion, [he] became convinced that we were deceived in relation to infant baptism”. How could so many men hold teachings that were inconsistent with what God’s word taught? Simons was unsure of the answer to this question, but was sure concerning what he found in Scriptures. Simons was convinced that baptism represented everything about one’s [own] understanding of the faith, the nature of discipleship, and the Christian community’s fate before the world. Baptism was the believer’s responsibility, not the parent’s, not the Church, nor the Pope’s. He saw his new understanding of The Lord’s Supper and baptism as “the illumination of the Holy Ghost, through much reading and pondering of the Scriptures, and by the gracious favour and gift of God”. Even though this gracious gift of God had been received, the gift of accurate biblical interpretation, Simons did not attempt to separate himself from the Roman Catholic Church. As a matter of fact, he carried on with business as usual, performing all of his priestly duties in Pingjum.
One thing changed for Simons, though. He began to allow the Scriptures that he had learned to be the very foundation of his life. The Scriptures poured out into every aspect of his life, even his preaching, so much so, that he became known as the “evangelical preacher”, a stark contrast to the “stupid preacher” he once thought himself to be. Although he was preaching from the Word, he still, at this point, failed to formulate official stances against the Church regarding his new found revelations. He was in anguish because he knew what the Bible taught, and he knew that he was not standing up for what was right. “During this period of spiritual anguish, he continued to minister and function as a priest, giving communion and baptizing infants, but he was clearly leading a double life, and he knew it”. It is with this mindset that his seven years of service to the parishioners at Pingjum came to an end.
Historically speaking, the revelation of Simons concerning the necessity to baptize only those who were professed believers marked the end of his priesthood in Pingjum. Simons’ belief in believer’s baptism did not, however, cause his separation from his parish in Pingjum, since he did not profess his new found beliefs to people at this point. He only kept them and pondered them in his heart. From this point on, he served in the parish of his hometown, where he was transferred in 1531. Simons confessed that he was not led there for the furtherance of God’s kingdom, nor as a result of his new found theology, but out of self-ambition. He was led to Witmarsum because of covetousness and out of a desire to make a great name for himself.
Shortly after, I went to the village in which I was born, called Witmarsnm.. Covetousness and a desire to obtain a great name, were the inducements which led me to that place. There I spoke much concerning the word of the Lord, without spirituality or love, as all hypocrites do, and by this means I made disciples of my own stamp, such as vain boasters and light minded babblers, who, alas! like myself, eared but little about these matters.
Regardless of what reason he gave for his installation into his new office, things would never be the same for Menno Simons after having served in Witmarsum. Simons would serve in his new position as pastor of Witmarsum for five years, from 1531 to 1536. His time of service there would be anything but uneventful.
His Anabaptist Roots and Foundation
The Background of the Anabaptists
In the background of the both priesthoods of Simons there was a movement in the air. People, known as reformers , were rising up against the false teachings of the church. In the twelfth century, the Petrobutians were rebaptizing believers and denounced veneration and use of images and cross worship. They were subsequently burned at the stake by the Catholic Church. In the thirteenth century a group called the Waldensians, led by Peter Waldo, preached the Bible in the vernacular of the people, even though the Roman Catholic Church had chained the Bible up as a way of forbidding its reading by anyone other than officials in the Church. They also emphasized discipleship, a clear contrast from the Church’s emphasis on tradition. They taught a belief in sola scriptura , separation of church and state, and the Lord’s Supper as a memorial. Many of the Waldensians were murdered for their beliefs. In the fourteenth century, fearless leaders such as John Wycliffe and John Huss rose up to contest the false teachings of the Catholic Church. Wycliffe taught things such as the priesthood of the believer , as opposed to the priesthood of an official of the Church. Wycliffe also rejected the Pope, seeing him as the Antichrist. Huss rejected the sale of indulgences as completely unbiblical, and taught that the greatest evil comes from the neglect of Bible study. Huss was burned at the stake by the Council of Constance in 1415. In the fifteenth century, men such as Italian preacher Giralomo Savonarola preached the gospel without fear from the Catholic Church. His support for the Reformation cost him his life in 1498, when he was burned at the stake. It should be noted that all of these men or groups, with the exception of the Petrobutians, while dissenting from the Church at Rome, supported the practice of infant baptism .
In the sixteenth century, the man who would become the father of the Reformation was born. Martin Luther, a former Augustinian monk, was saved reading the book of Romans, and was amazed by the grace of God he saw in that book. He broke with Rome over the sale of indulgences and the ungodly conduct of the Pope. On October 31, 1517, he attached his Ninety-five Theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle. In it he openly and publicly defied the Church by giving ninety-five areas where he differed theologically with the church. On the tenth of December, 1520, twenty-one months after the Ninety-five Theses was posted, Luther received a papal bull instructing him to publically recant his theses in the city square within sixty days. He refused to do so, and thus the Protestant Reformation was born.
After Luther, other magisterial reformers arose, such as John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. These men supported the break from the Catholic Church, but did not go all the way. They still believed in a unified, structured church, but they felt that their church was that church. Calvin, and subsequently Zwingli, set up a theocratic city-state in Zurich. They preached against the Mass, clerical celibacy, and the use of music and icons in the church. They preached for the centrality of Christ alone and the importance of faith .
During the same time that Calvin and Zwingli were rising to influence, a group called Anabaptists was surfacing, as well. They believed in separating from the state, refraining from swearing oaths, ministers as equals with the laity, and in the centrality of preaching. They also, most notably, believed that infants should not be baptized, and that only those who were professing believers should be baptized, as evidence of their conversion. Among the founders of the Anabaptists are Conrad Grabel, George Cajacob , Felix Manz , George Blaurock , and Michael Sattler . Most of the Anabaptists were martyred for what they believed, and in an ironic show of force, some were killed by drowning. Many more executions of Anabaptists occurred between the times of the death of the first Anabaptist martyr, Felix Manz, in 1527, and the beheading of the Anabaptist Sicke Snijder in 1531.
The death of Snijder, as well as the previous Anabaptist martyrs, did not yet inspire Simons to depart from the Catholic Church. As a matter of fact, later in 1531, in his new place of service, Simons preached the Word from Scriptures, just as he had done in the later time of his previous position. He admits that he preached the word without two vital elements – love and spirituality. He thought of himself as a hypocrite, preaching one thing and believing yet another. To add to the misery of his situation, he made disciples of others in his congregation, teaching them to believe, but not too seriously . Simons discovered that it was difficult, if not impossible, to live in the light of the truth while at the same time live in the shadow of the false teachings of the Church in which he served. For this reason, and others, the intensity rose and the sensitivity of the situation reached a breaking point.
Anabaptist Movements Close to Home and Closer to the Heart
While most all of the Anabaptists were peaceful in their organization and assembly, some were not. In the Netherlands, where Simons was serving, some Anabaptists fell under the influence of less peaceful leaders such as Jan Matthijs  and Jan van Leyden. Around 1533 Matthijs and Leyden exploited the chiliastic  teachings of Anabaptist leader Melchior Hoffman and began preaching that Christ was going to establish a New Jerusalem here on earth very soon. Both Matthijs and Leyden became influential leaders in the Lower Countries. Through their influence they convinced their followers that this New Jerusalem had come to the German city of Münster. In 1534, they forcefully took over the town and set up rule, in an attempt to rule according to their own spiritual principles . Their militant decisions would change the future of the Anabaptist movement.
Aided by the results of the severe persecution they transformed a part of the peaceful Biblical Anabaptist movement into a militant Old Testament “Israel,” each citizen of which was expected to help Christ usher in the millennium, which Hoffman had prophesied would start in Strasbourg, and which they variously prophesied to come at Münster, Amsterdam, and other places. Particularly the attempt to establish a “New Jerusalem” at Münster in 1534-35 affected the course and future of Anabaptism.
The Münsterite followers were defeated and the town returned, as close as it could, to normal. Simons spoke out against the Münsterites: “I also faithfully warned everyone in relation to the abominations of Munster, concerning kinds, polygamy, dominion, the sword”.
Just a few months later, in nearby Bolsward, a town in Frieland Netherland, a group of 300 men were inspired by the act of Münsterites in Germany. These men attempted to take control of the Olde Klooster monastery. They were unsuccessful in their takeover attempt, and most of the participants in the siege were subsequently either killed in action or captured at a later time and executed. Among those who were killed in this second uprising were some people who were close to Simons – some members of his congregation, and his brother, Peter Simons. This tragedy broke Simons’s heart, and he made a total surrender of himself to Christ. For about nine months he remained in the Catholic Church, preaching his new understanding of the Gospel .
Immediately following the death of the members of his congregation and his brother, Simons went public with the objections to the Catholic Church that had been stirring in his heart. He publically spoke out against infant baptism, Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, as well as other teachings within the church .
I began in the name of the Lord to preach publicly, from the pulpit, the word of true repentance; to direct the people into the narrow path, and through the power of the Scripture to reprove all sin and ungodliness, all idolatry and false worship, and to present the true worship, also baptism and the Lord’s Supper, according to the doctrine of Christ, to the extent that I had at that time received grace from God.
He publically spoke out against the destructive acts of Jan van Leyden and his followers. He publically pronounced their actions as wrong , yet personally felt responsible somehow for their misguided actions . Although their intentions were good, he thought, how could they have been so blind as to go so far by hurting people with violence? He saw them as sheep without a shepherd, who needed someone to help them seek the truth in Christian love and peace.
After nine months of preaching publically what the Holy Spirit had laid upon his heart , he felt that he could no longer fulfill the office of priest. It was time for Simons to live out the truth he knew in his heart. He knew it was time to end the hypocrisy that had ruled his life for the past ten years. It was time to rest on the only sure foundation, that of Jesus Christ  and nothing less! On January 31, 1536, Simons officially renounced his Roman Catholic priesthood. “He finally crossed the line and became an enemy to the faith that he had so dutifully served from his youth”. Because he offered help to the Münsterites, out of compassion and not approval for what they did, he was forced into hiding for about one year, in order to protect himself. During this time he devoted himself to the Word and to the study of the doctrines that had inspired the men and events that led him to where he was while in hiding.
His Anabaptist Service
His Call and Ordination
At the end of 1536, Simons was rebaptized  by the founder of Holland’s first Anabaptist congregation and leader of the Peace Wing of the Frisian Anabaptists, Obbe Philips . During this time some of the followers of the Münster debacle devoted themselves to pray for Simons to become their leader. After much prayer and persuasion, Simons agreed to become their leader and was ordained to service in January of 1537, in Groningen, in northern Holland.
His Ministry as an Anabaptist Leader
Simons considered himself not worthy of the ministry in which he was entrusted. He felt that his talents were limited, he was weak by nature, timid by spirit, and was not sure of his ability to confront the wickedness of the world. He knew that in order to be successful in ministry, he needed to surrender all he had: body, soul, and spirit . He did just that. He started in full force to minister to the needs of the people. He taught, baptized, and set out to “till the vineyard of the Lord” and “to build up [Christ’s] holy city and temple and to repair the torn-down walls”.
Simons became the official leader of the Anabaptists in Holland and beyond somewhere around 1539 to 1540. Obbe Philips, who had both baptized and ordained Simons to the ministry, was under great stress for his service as the Anabaptist leader in Holland. The pressure and persecution eventually proved too much for him. Out of fear for his life, he renounced his Anabaptist beliefs and submissively returned to the Roman Catholic faith. This left Simons as the new leader of the Anabaptists in Holland.
Like all Anabaptists, Simons was persecuted and hunted for his beliefs and teachings. He spent most of his ministry on the run, never settling down in one place for a long time. Simons wrote that he “could not find in all the countries a cabin or hut in which my poor wife and our little children could be put up in safety for a year or even half a year”. He escaped being killed only by moving from place to place and by the grace and protection of the Lord. Not only was Simons hunted, but those who followed him or supported him were hunted and killed as well. Charles V offered 100 guilders for Simons’ capture, forbade the reading of his works, and made it illegal to aid or shelter him. Simons’ followers were to be arrested. Criminals were offered pardon if only they would betray him . Yet this did not detour Simons from the Lord’s service. He preached by night and hid by day, eluding authorities every time. On occasion, those who sheltered Simons would be caught and executed, as was the case with Tjard Renix in 1539, and Klaas Jahns.
As a leader of the Anabaptists who believed and taught that ministers were the same as laity, and thus could marry, Simons put his beliefs into practice. He married Geertruydt, and they had three children, two girls and one boy. Being the wife of a refugee preacher was not an easy task, by any means. She had no permanent home to tend to, and she was often sick and of poor health . It was indeed the love of Christ and their love for each other that held them together, as they had very little more than that.
During his service as the leader of the Anabaptists, Simons wrote at least twenty-five books and tracts , including “The Blasphemy of John Leyden”, mentioned above. The most important of his books was the book “The Foundation of Christian Doctrine”, which Simons wrote in order to explain clearly the Biblical basis for Anabaptist theology, for both his followers and the authorities who accused them of heresy.
He also wrote more than eighteen letters or miscellaneous writings that have been preserved. All of Simons’ writings that have survived have been complied into a book entitled The Complete Writings of Menno Simons.
Simons continued to serve as an itinerant minister among the persecuted Anabaptists of the Low Countries  in the Netherlands, from 1536 to 1543; in northwest Germany, mainly in the Rhineland, from 1543 to 1546; and in Danish Holstein, from 1546 to 1561 . He had many accomplishments and setbacks along the way, yet he remained steadfast in the doctrines that he formulated and taught. He did not stop preaching the gospel, even in the face of danger, until his death.
Simons died of natural causes in 1561, at the age of sixty-five, in Germany. He had been crippled for several years before his death, due to a debilitating case of arthritis, yet he continued in service for the Lord. He served the Lord for twenty-five years after he renounced his priesthood before died. He was buried in his garden at his home .
His Doctrinal Stance
During Simons’ twenty-five years of service, and even in his later years as a priest, he taught love and separation from the world. He wanted his followers to be the separated “Quiet in the land”. “All the evangelical Scriptures teach us that the church of Christ was and is, in doctrine, life, and worship, a people separated from the world”. As seen in his advice to the Munsterites, he encouraged radicals to embrace the ideals of passivism and to quietly do good works, in accordance with Luke 6:27 (NKJV), which says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”. In this teaching, his followers were instructed to love their enemies to the point of nonresistance, never engaging them or anyone else in a violent manner, resisting violence or harm to others in all circumstances. They were not to hold civil offices, for these offices supported violence and the killing of men.
In addition to separation from the world and passivism, Simons also taught the importance of believer’s baptism by immersion, and taught against the falsehood of infant baptism. He taught that believers are a part of a community that should care for and minister to each other. He stressed the importance of discipleship, church discipline, personal holiness, imminent return of Christ, observance of the Lord’s Supper, foot-washing, and prohibition of marriage outside the community .
Simons also taught that believers should abstain from swearing oaths, but rather let their word stand. He emphasized peace, nonresistance, prohibition of oaths, and separation of church and state . This is because Christians are to tell the truth at every moment in their lives, not just at times when an oath was to be administered.
Additionally, Simons held to the Melchiorite doctrine of the incarnation, which taught that Christ brought to earth his own “heavenly flesh,” receiving nothing from Mary, not even his humanity. And since no man was the earthly father of Jesus, God must have created a body for him. Our Lord was therefore in Mary prior to his birth, yet he was not of Mary .
Simons additionally instructed his followers to care for the poor and widows, and to be concerned with ministering to the needs of people, both inside and outside of the community of believers. His followers were to live simple lives, and share their resources and talents with each other. Missions and evangelism were also important components of his doctrines.
Above all, Simons held to literal interpretation of the Scriptures. “He thus refused to use terms and doctrines not expressly sanctioned in the Bible, such as Trinity” . He believed that the Scripture alone should be the guiding light of one’s life, not the systematic teaching of any man. For this reason, he also spoke out against systematic theological teachings and writings.
His Influence Seen Today
Today the influences of Menno Simons can be seen in the churches that bear his name. Though he was not the founder of these churches, they bear his name because he assumed leadership at a most crucial time – a time when the church could have easily lost its identity. Today those who identify with the Mennonite church number more than 1.5 million throughout the world, although the term Mennonite was not used until the Swiss Anabaptists immigrated to America . Many variations of the Mennonite faith can be found around the world, such as the Beachy Amish Mennonite Churches, Bruderhof Communities, Mennonite Churches of God in Christ, Conservative Mennonite Conference, Fellowship of Evangelical Churches, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, Hutterian Brethren, Mennonite Churches U.S.A., The Missionary Church, Older Order Amish Churches, and Older Order (Wisler) Mennonite Churches. Other churches, such as the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, while not directly associated with the Mennonite movement today, owe their origins to the Mennonites .
Menno Simons said, “Behold, my faithful readers, in such fear, poverty, misery and danger of death, have I, wretched man, performed to this hour, without change, the service of the Lord, and I hope through his grace to continue therein to his glory, as long as I remain in this earthly tabernacle. What I and my faithful co-workers have sought or could have sought in performing these our arduous and dangerous duties, is apparent to all the well-disposed, who may readily judge from the works and their fruits “. The fruits of Simons’ good works are evident today. His deep faith, conviction, and love for God’s Word were motivation for his strong stand for God and his relentless pursuit of the teaching of truth, regardless of the consequences. In the face of such consequences, Simons response was consistent and was one of love: “I will here humbly entreat the reader for Jesus’ sake, to accept in love, this my confession in relation to my illumination, conversion and calling, and to meditate thereon”.
1 Walter A. Elwell, Biographical Entries from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v., “Menno Simons” (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), Logos Library System.
2 Earlier biographers placed his birth date in 1492. “It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that historians agreed that Simons must have been born in January 1496.” Information for footnote accessed from http://www.mennosimons.net/life.html on 25 September 2008.
3 Having been born in one of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands, Simon’s family, like other families in the area, did not have family names. People were known only by their first name. Walter A. Elwell, Biographical Entries from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v., “Menno Simons” (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), Logos Library System.
4 There are variations on his last name, as well as the spelling of the name. His actual last name, which would have been his father’s real first name, would have been Somonzoon, or Simonsz. In English it is spelled as Simons, and sometimes as Simmons or Symons. Referenced from C.D. Dyke, “Menno Simonsz,” Mennonite Ethereal Library, http://e-menno.org/simonz.htm (accessed 25 September 2008).
5 “Menno Simons,” Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/375150/Menno-Simons#tab=active…checked%2Citems…checked&title=Menno%20Simons%20–%20Britannica%20Online%20Encyclopedia (accessed 29 September 2008).
6 “Menno Simons, Fugitive Leader: Glimpses #107,” Glimpses of Christian History, http://chi.gospelcom.net/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps107.shtml (accessed 21 September 2008).
7 Doug Klassen, “Worthy of God’s call: A Meditation By Menno Simons,” Canadian Mennonite’s Faith & Life, http://www.canadianmennonite.org/vol08-2004/8-24/faithlife.php (accessed 29 September 2008). For his October 31, 2004, sermon at Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary, Doug Klassen took on the persona of Menno Simons, based on his writings and other sources. The original sermon is entitled, “That God may make us worthy of his call,” and is based on 2 Thessalonians Chapter 1.
8 Harold S. Bender, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons: A Brief Biography of Menno Simons, 5th ed., The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986), 4.
9 “The Complete Works of Menno Simons: Reply to Gellius Faber,” Mennonite Ethereal Library, http://www.e-menno.org/menno/menno003.htm (accessed 28 September 2008).
10 “Menno Simons, Fugitive Leader: Glimpses #107,”
11 Cornelius Krahn and Cornelius J. Dyck. “Menno Simons (1496-1561).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M4636ME.html. (Accessed 29 September 2008).
12 Ron Rhodes, The Complete Guide to Christian Denominations: Understanding the History, Beliefs, and Differences (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2005), 238.
13 “Menno Simons (1496-1561).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
14 “The Complete Works of Menno Simons: Reply to Gellius Faber,” Mennonite Ethereal Library, http://www.e-menno.org/menno/menno003.htm (accessed 25 September 2008).
15 Transubstantiation is the formal Catholic Church doctrine that teaches that the bread and the wine are the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ.
16 In 1 Corinthians Chapter 11 Paul gives instructions to those in Corinth concerning how to properly administer the Lord’s Supper. He quoted the words of Jesus who said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance [or memorial] of Me.”
17 Also listed in history as Sicke Freerks or Sicke Freerks Snijder. See: Victor Shepherd, “Menno Simons 1496-1561: Radical Reformer,” Christianity Today. Reprint from article originally printed in Fellowship Magazine December 1995. http://www.christianity.ca/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=4396 (accessed 01 October 2008).
18 Menno Simons, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, ed. J.C. Wenger, trans. Leonard Verduin (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956), 668.
19 Radical reformers took things further than the first reformers, such as Luther and Zwingly, who were called magisterial reformers because their reform was supported by governments and magistrates. The radical reformers had neither the support of the church nor the support of the local governments.
20 There is no clear indication as to which ancient writers he was referring. In Simons own autobiography, he simply refers to them as “ancient writers”. Some accounts go further in specificity and say “early church fathers”, but we cannot be sure. See: Machiel Zanten, “Menno’s Life,” Menno Simons.net, http://www.mennosimons.net/life.html (accessed 02 October 2008).
21 It should also be noted that Bucer was one of the first to break his monastic vow of celibacy after the reformation begun. See: Paul Gruenburg, “Martin Bucer (1491–1551): Early Protestant Reformer,” Theology thru Technical, tlogocal, http://www.tlogical.net/biobucer.htm (accessed 01 October 2008).
22 Some have interpreted Bucer’s stand on infant baptism as an act more for the parents than the child. In this way of understanding, the baptism of the infant is seen as a pledge for the parents to raise the child in godly home, such as the more modern infant “dedication” service practiced in many protestant churches. See: Ronald J. Gordon, “Menno Simons: The Second Struggle,” Church of the Brethren Network, http://www.cob-net.org/text/history_menno.htm (accessed 01 October 2008).
23 Bullinger, a Swiss reformer, became the leader of the reformed party in Switzerland after the death of Ulrich Zwingli. For more information on Bullinger, See: J. W. Baker, Bullinger and the Covenant (1981).
24 Mark Klassen, “What Happened When Menno Simons Read His Bible,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, http://old.mbherald.com/39-17/mennosimons.html (accessed 3 October 2008).
25 Ronald J. Gordon, “Menno Simons: The Second Struggle,”
26 “The Complete Works of Menno Simons: Reply to Gellius Faber,” Mennonite Ethereal Library.
27 These reformers are known to us today as “magisterial” reformers, in an attempt to separate them from the later Anabaptist “radical” reformers. Additionally, some of the reformers listed would be considered early reformers, or reformers before the official start of the Reformation in 1517.
28 A Latin phrase for “By Scripture alone”. This phrase or motto, along with 4 others, would come to be the foundation of theology for the reformers. The four other phrases are: Sola fide (“by faith alone), Sola gratia (“by grace alone”), Solus Christus (“Christ alone”), and Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”).
29 Wycliffe based his belief in the “priesthood of the believer” on passages from God’s Word such as 1 Peter 2:9, which says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (NKJV)
30 The Catholic doctrine which says that men must do more than just confess and repent of their sins. They must pay some type of retribution for the sins they commit. This is therefore done by paying the asking price of the priest or cardinal in charge of that area. Indulgences evolved also into the sale of forgiveness for future sins, at times when the church was in a campaign to raise funds for things such as a new church or a financial crisis.
31 Savonarola was a former Dominic monk in Florence, Italy, who left the church to preach the Gospel throughout Italy.
32 Dr. Ergun Caner, “History of Baptists” (lecture given via DVD video presentation, with lecture notes provided), Liberty University School of Religion, Lynchburg, VA.
34 Grabel is known as the “first practitioner of the Anabaptist movement” because he was the first known person to publically re-baptize someone after the reformation. This occurred on 21 January 1525.
35 Cajacob was the first person to be rebaptized publically after the reformation. He was baptized by Grabel.
36 A participant in the first re-baptism service of 21 January 1525. Notably, he is also the first Anabaptist to be martyred for his beliefs on baptism. He was martyred on 05 January 1527, 4 years before the Anabaptist martyr Snijder was beheaded.
37 Noted as the most zealous evangelist of the Anabaptist movement (by Dr. Ergun Caner). He was martyred by burning at the stake on 06 September 1529.
38 Author of the Schleitheim Confession, and another martyr of the Anabaptist movement. He was martyred on 20 May 1527.
39 Menno Simons, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, 669.
40 Also known as John Matthyszoon.
41 This doctrine states that Jesus will reign on earth for 1,000 years, also know also the eschatological view of millennialism.
42 The anarchy that ensued has been properly titled the “Mayhem in Munster.”
43 Cornelius Krahn and Cornelius J. Dyck. “Menno Simons (1496-1561).”
44 Menno Simons. “The Complete Works of Menno Simons: Reply to Gellius Faber,” Mennonite Ethereal Library.
45 Walter A. Elwell, Biographical Entries from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v., “Menno Simons.”
46 Vance Melvin, Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians: Simons, Menno, ed. Patrick W. Carey and Joseph T. Lienhard (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 2002), 468.
47 Menno Simons. “The Complete Works of Menno Simons: Reply to Gellius Faber,” Mennonite Ethereal Library.
48 Menno wrote his first tract to publically condemn the actions of Leyden. It was called “Against the Blasphemy of Jan Leyden.”
49 He had taught some of these followers about the corruption of the papacy, yet did not lead the church in the way of reform. Since he did not lead them in the ‘right’ way, he felt to blame when they went the ‘wrong’ way.
50 Simons marveled, according to Harold Bender, that the church allowed him to preach the Word for nine months. To Simons, he was doing just as Calvin did in Geneva – he was using his pulpit as a platform to preach his newfound beliefs.
51 1 Corinthians 3:11
52 Ronald J. Gordon, “Menno Simons: The Second Struggle,”
53 The exact date of Menno’s rebaptism is not know. It is assumed that he was baptized after he left the priesthood, and possible after he came out of hiding, though it is not known for sure. Some speculate that he was baptized directly after leaving the priesthood. If this is the case, then he would have been baptized in early 1536, as opposed to late 1536.
54 Obbe Phillips is considered the founder of the Mennonite body, not Menno Simons.
55 Cornelius Krahn and Cornelius J. Dyck. “Menno Simons (1496-1561)”.
56 Menno Simons, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, 672.
57 Some accounts give the price on Simons head as high as 2000 guilders, although this seems unlikely.
58 “Menno Simons, Fugitive Leader: Glimpses #107”.
59 Cornelius Krahn and Cornelius J. Dyck. “Menno Simons (1496-1561)”.
60 Twenty- five books and tracts have been preserved. He may have very well written more that did not survive.
61 Holman Bible Handbook, s.v., “Simons, Menno” (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1996), Electronic Edition STEP Files, Parsons Technology, Inc.
62 Biographical Entries from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v., “Menno Simons” (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), Logos Library System.
63 The exact location of the grave is not known. The destruction of the Thirty Years’ War ruined his original grave. His followers have marked what they believe to be the actual site, which is known to at least be near his pace of death. However, the exact place of his remains is not known.
64 Harold S Bender. The Anabaptist Vision, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1944), 27.
65 George Thomas Kurian, Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2001), Menno Simons.
66 Milliard J. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology: Menno Simons, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 125.
67 Walter A. Elwell, Biographical Entries from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v., “Menno Simons”
68 George Thomas Kurian, Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World .
69 John Hunt, Concise Church History: Menno Simons, ed. Dan Penwell and Warren Baker (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2008), 326-27.
70 Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill and Craig D. Atwood, Handbook of Denominations: In the United States, 12th ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005), 148-59.
71 Menno Simons, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, 692.
Bender, Harold S. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons: A Brief Biography of Menno Simons. 5th ed. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986.
________. The Anabaptist Vision, (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1944), 27.
Caner, Dr. Ergun. History of Baptists. (lecture given via DVD video presentation, with lecture notes provided), Liberty University School of Religion, Lynchburg, VA.
Dyke, C.D. “Menno Simonsz.” Mennonite Ethereal Library. http://e-menno.org/simonz.htm (accessed 25 September 2008).
Elwell, Walter A. and Walter A. Elwell. Vol. 1, Biographical Entries from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. electronic ed. Baker reference library; Logos Library System. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997, c1984.
Erickson, Milliard J. The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology: Menno Simons. Rev. ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001.
Gordon, Ronald J. “Menno Simons: The Second Struggle.” Church of the Brethren Network. http://www.cob-net.org/text/history_menno.htm (accessed 01 October 2008).
Holman Bible Handbook. 2nd Edition, Electronic; Electronic Edition STEP Files, Parsons Technology, Inc. Holman Bible Publishers
Hunt, John. Concise Church History: Menno Simons. Edited by Dan Penwell and Warren Baker. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2008.
Klassen, Doug. “Worthy of God’s Call: A Meditation By Menno Simons.” Canadian Mennonite’s Faith & Life. http://www.canadianmennonite.org/vol08-2004/8-24/faithlife.php (accessed 29 September 2008).
Klassen, Mark. “What Happened When Menno Simons Read His Bible.” Mennonite Brethren Herald. http://old.mbherald.com/39-17/mennosimons.html (accessed 02 October 2008).
Krahn, Cornelius and Cornelius J. Dyck. “Menno Simons (1496-1561).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M4636ME.html. (Accessed 29 September 2008).
Kurian, George Thomas. Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2001.
Mead, Frank S., Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood. Handbook of Denominations: In the United States. 12th ed. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005.
Melvin, Vance. Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians: Simons, Menno. Edited by Patrick W. Carey and Joseph T. Lienhard. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 2002.
“Menno Simons.” Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/375150/Menno-Simons#tab=active…checked%2Citems…checked&title=Menno%20Simons%20–%20Britannica%20Online%20Encyclopedia (accessed 29 September 2008).
“Menno Simons, Fugitive Leader: Glimpses #107.” Glimpses of Christian History. http://chi.gospelcom.net/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps107.shtml (accessed 21 September 2008).
Rhodes, Ron. The Complete Guide to Christian Denominations: Understanding the History, Beliefs, and Differences. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2005.
Simons, Menno. “The Complete Works of Menno Simons: Reply to Gellius Faber.” Mennonite Ethereal Library. http://www.e-menno.org/menno/menno003.htm (accessed 28 September 2008).
________. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons. Edited by J.C. Wenger. Translated by Leonard Verduin. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956.
Baker, J.W. “Bullinger and the Covenant” (1981).
Gordon, Ronald J. “Menno Simons: The Second Struggle.” Church of the Brethren Network. http://www.cob-net.org/text/history_menno.htm (accessed 01 October 2008).
Shepherd, Victor. “Menno Simons 1496-1561: Radical Reformer.” Christianity Today. Reprint from article originally printed in Fellowship Magazine December 1995.http://www.christianity.ca/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=4396 (accessed 01 October 2008).
Zanten, Machiel. “Menno’s Life.” Menno Simons.net. http://www.mennosimons.net/life.html (accessed 02 October 2008).
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